Sleaford Town Councillors have agreed to allow the Blankney Hunt supporters to stage their popular traditional Boxing Day meet in Eastgate Car Park after health and safety issues forced them to abandon holding it in the Market Place this year.
After 120 years of meeting on Boxing Day in Sleaford Market Place, with hundreds of townspeople turning out for the annual festive spectacle there has to be a change of plan.
With policing resources stretched and a requirement for a road closure to carry out the event safely, the hunt committee has looked elsewhere.
The Hunt requested Sleaford Town Council’s permission to use nearby Eastgate Car Park on Boxing Day. Councillors met last night (Wednesday) and decided whether to allow the move for this year, with future arrangements to be looked at in January with the police and highways officers.
Coun Anthony Brand warned that the area will have to be barriered off well in advance to avoid cars being left overnight and getting in the way.
Coun Paul Coyne said he was totally opposed to hosting it: “The Market Place is governed by North Kesteven District Council and they should provide an alternative.”
It was explained by clerk Kevin Martin that NKDC’s Lafford Terrace car park would still be used for the horse boxes and vehicles as usual.
Coun Adrian Snookes said he was sad if such a tradition was lost.
A Lincolnshire Police spokesman told The Standard there have been a number of public safety concerns about the event for some years, explaining: “A large number of horses and around 60-70 dogs enter the Market Place from one side and oncoming traffic enters from the other. In the middle are hundreds of pedestrians who, by virtue of numbers, are forced out into the road, effectively blocking it to the extent that vehicles are literally nudging through crowds of people towards animals they can’t see. Officers have had to use emergency powers to close the road in the past to prevent injury.”
She stated that, as a pre-planned event, the hunt organisers met with the local inspector and events planning officers in January.
“We outlined the issues and their responsibilities and the Hunt representative assured us they would come up with a plan to ensure everyone’s safety,” she said.
“By mid-November, it transpired that nothing had been put in place. We therefore had another meeting with the Hunt. The Hunt left it too late to apply for formal road closures, so alternative options were discussed.”
The county council states there would have been no charge for a road closure as it is a not-for-profit event.
The Blankney Hunt Committee met last week and chairman Graham Brown said: “In order to comply with safety concerns and traffic issues for the police, it is needed to move the Hunt to a nearby council car park. We are pleased to work with the police and Town Council.”
Mr Brown admitted he was disappointed. “We need to keep these traditions going,” he said.
“I can see both sides. There is obviously a need for security and to avoid any accidents. In future I would love to go back to the Market Place. The sheer presence of a lot of people means a few businesses and the church open to provide refreshments and get extra income.”
They will discuss future arrangements with police in January.